The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran is the sequel to Nefertiti, which I reviewed last week. I recommend reading that review first because this one will contain major spoilers for Nefertiti. This review will also have slight spoilers for The Heretic Queen. I’ll get into my thoughts after the synopsis.
In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.
The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.
Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.
Sweeping in scope and meticulous in detail, The Heretic Queen is a novel of passion and power, heartbreak and redemption.
While I really do like Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen is my favorite of the two. It’s told from the point of view of Mutnodjmet’s daughter, Nefertari, about 20 years after the first book. The story starts with Nefertari at 13 years old, a year older than her mother in Nefertiti. The start of the book is slightly jarring because as soon as it begins we find out that Mutnodjemt’s family was killed in a fire and then Mutnodjmet died giving birth to Nefertari. It was super depressing because I was attached to those characters and then they were all killed off immediately in the next book. The only character from the first book still in this one is Merit, Nefertiti’s former body servant. However, in this book some of the details don’t align with the first book. For example, Moran changed Merit’s character and said that she was Nefertiti’s children’s nanny in the first book. That’s a small detail that really doesn’t matter, though.
The Heretic Queen spans five years and we get to see Nefertari become a wife, mother and queen. If you read this book as a fictional story with a little bit of history mixed in, you’ll probably like it. There’s drama and romance and all that good stuff that I love but it’s really not historically accurate. According to the known timelines, Nefertari could not have been related to Nefertiti. They lived around 50 years apart, not the 20 or so years that Moran has made it in this book. Nefertari’s real life origins are mainly unknown. However, this is a fictional story and if you’re not a history nerd like I am, those details won’t bother you.
One of my main complaints with Nefertiti was that we had very limited knowledge about what was really going on in Nefertiti’s or Akenhaten’s head because it wasn’t told from Nefertiti’s point of view. That is not an issue in this book because it is told from Nefertari’s point of view. We get to know what she’s thinking as she prepares to marry Ramesses II and for everything after that. We get to have intimate knowledge about Ramesses and the entire royal court. That automatically makes me like this book more but there are some issues.
My primary problem with this book is the lack of depth in the characters, i.e., Nefertari is such a Mary Sue. She’s beautiful, brave, intelligent and Ramesses automatically loves her more than his other wife, Iset. On the other hand, Iset is vain, selfish and ignorant. It’s clear that we’re supposed to root for Nefertari over Iset. Nefertiti also had this same, clear cut relationship dynamic between Nefertiti and Kiya, Akenhaten’s other wife. It would have been more interesting if The Heretic Queen had went in another direction and not made one wife so obviously better than the other. However, Nefertiti at least had flaws, like being extremely jealous when Akenhaten would spend the night with Kiya. Nefertari never really got jealous even when Ramesess would go to Iset. I feel that Moran thinks people won’t like her main characters if they’re not pure perfection but I like my characters MORE when they have real flaws. I mean, let’s be real, there should have been at least one time that Nefertari spent the night fuming because Ramesses was with Iset, lol.
This is an entertaining book but it doesn’t have much substance, which is fine as long as you don’t expect more from it. I do recommend both Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen to any ancient Egyptian lover wanting a light read with some drama and history. I’d love to know if this duology sounds interesting to you! Thanks for reading and have a great day!